Not since the days of then manager Simon Stainrod and his jauntily worn fedora had Dundee tasted success at their own ground against the Ibrox side. Rangers subsequently embarked on a 44-match unbeaten run, which included coming within a win of the Champions League final.
Such days are long ago now. There is little chance a first defeat at Dens this millennium will spark such an impressive reaction from a currently directionless Rangers. It’s main impact should be to hasten the search for a permanent manager after the Ibrox side fell six points behind Aberdeen in the race for second place in the Premiership.
Graeme Murty’s unconvincing-looking team managed a response of sorts to going 2-0 down after first-half goals from Mark O’Hara and Kevin Holt. But as the caretaker manager himself remarked, it was probably not enough to deserve anything from the game, although substitute Harry Forrester, so often a thorn in Dundee’s side, missed a glaring chance to equalise with ten minutes left.
Stainrod memorably described Dundee going for Rangers’ jugular “and ripping it out” after the 4-3 win in 1992, that events demanded was recalled yesterday. While current manager Paul Hartley said nothing quite so colourful afterwards, Dundee’s game plan contained something of the class of 92’s intensity.
Lung-busting runs typified by man-of-the-match O’Hara’s sprint back to rob Lee Hodson, who was lingering on the ball, summed up Dundee’s approach, as did Hartley’s decision to play 4-4-2. Dundee pressed and harried Rangers, who were two goals down after 40 minutes.
Rangers, with Kenny Miller playing a more withdrawn role, clawed their way back into it through Joe Garner’s long-range effort after 62 minutes. But despite some nervy moments towards the end, it was Dundee’s day – and one they’ve been waiting a long time to see.
This was Dundee’s 20th match at Dens against Rangers since a double from Billy Dodds and goals from Ivo den Biemen and Ian Gilzean secured a 4-3 win in August 1992. Four draws were the nearest they’d come to repeating the feat. But it felt like a special spirit in the old stadium was driving them forward yesterday, something strengthened by supporters who took their time to believe that something special could be happening.
With around ten minutes left, and the Forrester let-off having convinced the fans this could be the day, a surge of noise erupted from the home stands. They felt a win was within sight and wanted to play their part. The victory, welcome though it was, possibly should have been more comfortable.
Dundee signalled their intent from the opening seconds when Craig Wighton, playing on the left of a four-man midfield, sprinted up the flank before crossing for O’Hara, who headed wide.
Both O’Hara and Clint Hill, the Rangers centre-half, were left on the turf afterwards. The latter was forced to come off later in the half due to the continued effects from the clash of heads, including blurred vision.
By the time Hill had been replaced by Danny Wilson just before the half-hour mark Dundee were ahead – and it was a goal of quality.
More good work on the left by Wighton and Henrik Ojaama saw the latter player cut back a cross towards the back of the box. O’Hara latched on to it and hit a left-foot shot in off the far post past Wes Foderingham.
There were only 12 minutes on the clock, so still plenty time for Rangers to address the situation. But it already felt like Dundee were going to be hard to subdue on an afternoon when the Dens side knew they could reach the top six with a win.
A second goal five minutes before half-time simply confirmed this impression. O’Hara was fouled by Wilson a yard outside the penalty area. Holt came over from left-back to take the free-kick and for the second week in a row scored at the home end at Dens. His curling effort past a cluster of bodies beat Foderingham, who was able only to tip the ball on to his far post.
Dundee fans know only too well that such a seemingly commanding position can be easily eroded, with their side having lost a two-goal lead earlier this month in Inverness. Rangers did improve in the second half, though they could hardly be any worse. Scott Bain had to tip a free-kick from James Tavernier over the bar before Dundee fans’ fears intensified as Garner, pictured, slung a right-footed effort from around 20 yards into the far corner past Bain. Their dread got worse when they saw Forrester, who had scored three times in three games against Dundee, step on to the pitch as part of a double substitution. Barrie McKay and Andy Halliday made way for Forrester and Jason Holt.
It was inevitable that Rangers’ one real chance would fall to Forrester, who sclaffed an effort past the post from six yards out after Martyn Waghorn’s cross had been helped on by Garner.
Dundee should have secured the win when Wighton sprinted clear and then shot. However, he was foiled when Foderingham saved his effort with an outstretched foot.
The minutes ticked on very slowly indeed for home fans, whose huge roar when Craig Thomson’s final whistle blew was shot through with a quarter of a century’s worth of pent-up frustration.
Maybe they can now make it a famous double when Celtic, who they haven’t beaten here since 1988, come calling next month.